Saturday, December 18, 2010

Blessed are the Holbrookes

Usually I speak ill of famous people who die and get lionized in print and puffland. Richard Holbrooke will serve as the first exception to the rule that celebrity dead old farts smell as bad as the living, the obscure and even the young.

"When I graduated from Brown," he told an interviewer, "John F. Kennedy was president and we all thought that public service in government was the highest thing we could do, a noble calling."

How often have you recently heard anyone say that out loud, with meaning, without winks and nods suggesting that, of course, making money is better? Working in government can be just as dull and idiotic as working in the private sector, no doubt.

Holbrooke embodied that idea of noblesse oblige, that privileges carry with them obligations, an idea once common to anyone with a university education.

The man who brought peace to the Balkans after the bloody break up of Yugoslavia could be very gruff (how else do you get a Slobodan Milošević to deal?). He was not a saint (pace, Diana Johnstone).

Yet Holbrooke represented the best instincts of the nonideological pre-boomers and he stands as someone with a remarkably more solid character than his peers. A young man graduating from any university today could certainly do worse than to emulate him.

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